Artist Mark Heine shares his thoughts on sketching and painting while exploring our fascinating world.
All art copyright by Mark Heine.
I’m standing at the back of a group surrounding our local guide, who, like most guides, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his area and feels duty-bound to relate ALL of it. We follow obediently, straining to hear, as if there will be a pop quiz at the end.
I stand at the rear so I can inject amusing comments, and so I can slip away with other artists in the group the moment it won’t seem rude. The history is interesting, but the urge to break away is powerful. We’re there for a different reason. We want to sink into wherever we are … to have enough time to get past the initial awe and really absorb. Time on location is precious, rare and valuable.
Mark Heine sketching. Lisa Leighton
My sister Caren and I have happily inherited both the love of art and of travel from our father, renowned Canadian watercolor artist Harry Heine. From the late 1970s until just before he passed away in 2004, he travelled the globe on many group tours, sketching, painting, demonstrating and teaching. Caren and I began touring with him in 1985, and we have continued since his death. These are not “art” or painting tours: they are travel tours that include professional artists.
Rothenburg, Germany Artist Musing (above and below): “As I sketched in what must be one of the most perfectly preserved medieval towns in the world, a minstrel appeared dressed in a traditional medieval costume. I realized that he was playing songs of my youth: traditional German folk songs that my father had played on Sunday mornings. Songs I hadn’t heard in 40 years but knew all the words to … in German, no less. I spent a wonderful hour listening and sketching in perhaps the finest situation I could imagine. Later, I went over and told him what it had meant to me, and then bought his German folk songs CD. Turns out he was pure Irish — Michael Killkenny — but inspiring nonetheless.”
Adding a tour-long artistic theme to a holiday is educationally stimulating and entertaining. Traveling with artists is a unique opportunity to tap into your right brain and travel for something more than another history lesson. Whether or not you can sketch or paint (or want to try), seeing what is around you through an artist’s eyes can open your senses, for example, to scale, or the subtle colors of stone, or the intricacies of a carving. It is impossible to deny the presence of history in a Gothic cathedral, but it is really the combination of artistry, scale, style, color, texture and design that stirs the spirit. Artists and their work can make you keenly aware of that.
The rewards of any travel are obvious. Experiencing new cultures, lifestyles, food and people makes this world a small and friendly place. Travelling with artists can magnify that experience. Even if you don’t take up pencil or brush, being somewhere and then seeing a sketch or painting of it during the trip adds a new dimension. And if you want to try sketching or painting, the experience gets deeper still because you must really sink into a place and a moment before you can render it effectively.
Knights Templer fortress on the Greek island of Rhodes.
I’ve met academic scholars who choose to sketch rather than photograph, for that very reason: to really see, understand and remember. I’ve been to many places and seen many great sights, but without a doubt the sights I recall most clearly are the ones I sketched … a derelict tomb in an arid Turkish valley, a quiet morning at the great library in Ephesus, or sunset staining a windblown Grecian temple. I find sketching the scenes of everyday life equally valuable for experiencing a people and their current culture … a small tourist shop on Rhodes, an abandoned tractor in China, or the doorway of our hotel in Prague at dawn (the hour courtesy of jet lag).
Rural China Artist Musing: “While walking around the edge of a rice paddy in a very rural area, I spied this abandoned Russian-built tractor, sitting in the middle of what was clearly a busy crossroads. Tires had worn deep grooves in the dirt road that swerved uncomfortably around it. Judging by the rust, it hadn’t been started in perhaps 30 years. I pondered why they hadn’t moved it out of the way … and then it occurred to me. You’d need a tractor for that.”
These were some of the places where I stopped running from one sight to the next in a vain attempt to see it ALL. Instead, I decided to see a great deal, buy some history books to take home, and more deeply experience a few things. Sketching is a perfect tool for capturing that because it opens your imagination and allows you to really stretch, to feel the history and presence of those who went before. Looking now at my trip sketches, I find that I also clearly remember the heat, the smells, and the sounds of most of my location-sketching experiences. And people passing, stopping to ask shy questions, or just see what I was seeing. Sharing, for a brief moment, a particular vision that didn’t need language. Those are souvenirs like no others.
Never sketched? It may be time to give it a try. The trick that makes it fun is that travel sketching is about the process, not about creating art. You’re learning and exploring the view, whatever the outcome on paper. There is no right or wrong: it is like an illustrated diary of your personal observations.
Temple of Zeus Artist Musing: “Construction on this Temple of Zeus that I sketched in Athens, Greece began in the 6th century B.C., and finished six centuries later. It must have been a sight to behold in its glory days, when most people lived in mud and straw huts, because its ruins are a sight to behold now, even surrounded by tall modern buildings. I was well into this sketch when I realized I was sitting on an ant hill. If I moved to either side, I’d mess up my sketch perspective, so I chose to move a few feet forward and scratch a lot.”
When I sketch, I break down the scene as a puzzle of shapes to explore with my eyes and resolve on paper. That keeps the process honest and without pretension: it’s meant to be a study. That is part of what we try to teach. We also give open painting demonstrations and presentations on things like perspective and technique — although personally, I think the best learning happens in some outdoor cafe, sipping smoked beer and exploring the same view, side by side, person to person. There’s no prerequisite skill level required, just a brave heart and a sense of humor. Like most things, sketching is a learned skill that takes practice. But the benefits are instant … it’s magic!
Our tours are about having fun and enjoying each encounter with the paper whether in a farmer’s field or an historic town. No pop quizzes at the end of the trip, just a glass of wine and a show of sketches and paintings, all voluntary. Sketch outings and demonstrations are always optional, day by day. One day you may choose to join the sketching group, or, if you’re not in the sketching mood, you may take a tour with a local guide or do an independent exploration.
Those traveling with a friend or partner find that the different options make everyone comfortable. We often have guests who find it difficult to climb hills or participate in the walking tours. The option to remain comfortably in one place and sketch, or just observe and chat with friends, is exactly what they’re looking for.
In the end, you’ll learn, discover, meet new friends, feel proud of your artistic achievements (we teach that too), and take home vivid memories that actually will last a lifetime. Being “drawn” to travel can mean more than you imagine!
Mark Heine was raised by artists to be an artist. Not many people can say that with confidence of the outcome, but 34 years as an artist, a thousand paintings and a million words later, the fruits of his creative labors prove beyond a doubt that Mark fulfilled his parents’ expectations. And there’s lots more to come!
Check out Mark’s website and contact him for more information. He is always pleased to engage in conversation.
To experience an earlier European river cruise with Canadian artists Mark Heine and sister, Caren Heine, see “Europe’s Heartland River Cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna“. Caren occasionally offers painting workshops on cruise tours and land tours, hosted by Special Travel International.
To enjoy another art-focused article about the rewards of painting postcards while on vacation, see “Painting Postcards Enriches Travel for the Artist and the Folks Back Home“.
In the course of his long career in the arts, Mark Heine www.markheine.com has toured the world, teaching and exhibiting his art. His work has won numerous national and international awards, and is found in collections throughout North America and abroad. Mark, his two daughters, Sarah and Charlotte, and his partner Lisa live in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.